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Madhya Pradesh: Congress Dooms and BJP Blooms Again

Kamal Nath’s Hindutva penchant sinks the grand old party. The BJP adopted a different strategy to overcome a 20-year anti-incumbency factor, voter fatigue, increased unemployment, and rising inflation. The party focused largely on women voters and announced several welfare programmes. The ploy seems to have paid off well. 

Pervez Bari | Clarion India

BHOPAL — Aging leadership, over-confidence, lackluster campaigning, and opting to play a soft Hindutva card thereby marginalising the minorities spelled doom for Congress in the Madhya Pradesh elections.

The grand old party could muster only 66 of the 230 seats as against 114 in the 2018 elections. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) romped home with 163 seats as against 109 seats it could manage the last time around.

The cockiness in the party was abundantly visible that the state Congress chief Kamal Nath’s son, Nakul Nath, announced during the campaigning on October 31 that his father would take the oath as chief minister on December 7 and invited party cadres, all and sundry, to witness the grand spectacle.

Besides, Kamal Nath’s alleged ‘chalo, chalo’ response to workers may have affected the grand old party’s poll performance, leading it to ‘chalo, chalo’ in election results. The communication gap between the top leaders and the party workers added fuel to the fire. The Congress failed to assess the strength of BJP’s workers’ commitment towards the party at the ground level.

Non-availability of the top party leaders at the Pradesh Congress Committee’s office also cost the Congress dear.

It was also said that the PCC president did not give much weightage to other party leaders. The party’s regional satraps like Ajay Singh, Arun Yadav and Suresh Pachauri did not get much importance in the ticket distribution process. During the whole election process, these satraps remained in their cozy dens and only a few second rung party leaders were seen campaigning. What was really needed was an aggressive touch to the campaigning which the party lacked miserably.

Welfare Schemes for Women

The BJP adopted a different strategy to overcome a 20-year anti-incumbency factor, voter fatigue, increased unemployment, and rising inflation. The party focussed largely on women voters and announced several welfare programmes. The ploy seems to have paid off well. There are 5.6 crore voters in Madhya Pradesh, of this 2.7 crore are women. And in more than 12 percent, or 29, of the 230 assembly constituencies, women outnumber men voters.

Apart from the Modi magic, there were five main factors behind the party’s grand victory:

1. Ladli Behna Yojna: The flagship scheme of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government proved to be a game-changer. Barely six months before elections, the chief minister doled out Rs 1,000 per month to eligible women between 21 to 60 years. He later increased the amount to Rs.1,250 a month and further promised to hike the amount up to Rs 3,000 monthly.

2. Mama’s Emotional Connect: The chief minister successfully established his image as a brother to ‘Ladli Behnas (sisters)’ and as Mama to ‘dear bhanjas & bhanjis’ (nephews & nieces). His emotional speeches, addressing women as “meri pyari behna” (my dear sisters), instilled a trust within the fairer sex that the chief minister was always at hand to resolve any of their issues.

It is worth noting that Shivraj Singh Chouhan addressed 53 all-women rallies in different districts. He was not only able to sell his beneficial schemes for women, he was instrumental in wooing students by offering them laptops and cycles.

3. Ground-level Work: BJP workers, undoubtedly, specialise when it comes to on-field work. Powered by the RSS cadre, the BJP successfully organised several booth-level programmes to strengthen the party’s reach, especially in remote areas.

It goes to the party’s credit that all senior leaders including the chief minister, national president of the party J.P. Nadda, party’s state chief V.D. Sharma and almost all Cabinet ministers attended the booth-level events. The direct contact with the top brass boosted the confidence of booth-level party workers.

4. Combo of Modi & Shivraj’s Schemes: Since the BJP is also ruling at the Centre, the state had more power and advantage of announcing direct benefits. For instance, the Centre had announced Rs 6,000 a year to farmers under Kisan Samman Nidhi. Shivraj expanded the scheme and announced Rs 4,000 a year to farmers. He further raised the amount to Rs 6,000 a year. As a result, farmers in Madhya Pradesh ended up getting Rs 12,000 a year, i.e. Rs 1,000 a month.

Similarly, the chief minister announced Ladli Behna Awas Yojana in line with the PM Awas Yojana, promising free houses to eligible women.

5. Public Reach of Chouhan Versus Kamal Nath: Women in Madhya Pradesh are fond of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Well, there is a reason for it. He held 166 rallies in roughly 37 days after the model code of conduct was implemented — 3 times more than Kamal Nath, who just held 50 rallies due to his age factor. The constant presence of Shivraj in the voters’ minds is one of the major reasons the public did not forget to press the lotus button in the polling booths.

Nearly eight months before the elections, the chief minister had spelled out his election strategy. On March 1, Finance Minister Jadgish Devda began his budget speech by chanting ‘shlokas’ (hymns) praying to Lord Mahakaleshwar, one of the 12 ‘Jyotirlingas’ in the country located in Ujjain.

The budget, the last in the incumbent government’s current term, however, stood out for the Rs 8,000-crore “Mukhyamantri Ladli Behna Yojana”. Soon after, Chouhan launched the scheme with a single click and called it a milestone towards women’s empowerment. Some 12 million women will receive Rs 1,000 every month, which will be progressively raised to Rs 3,000, under the welfare scheme. This was seen as a smart counter-attack against the Congress’s poll guarantee of providing Rs 1,500 per month to women.

Chouhan also reduced the minimum age required for availing of benefits under the Ladli Bahna scheme from 23 to 21.

The total number of beneficiaries has now touched 13.2 million across the state, as Chouhan drew a link between his efforts and the Women’s Reservation Bill of the Centre. Madhya Pradesh was also among the first states to introduce 50 per cent reservation for women in elections to panchayats and urban bodies. It also has 30 percent reservation for women in the police force. The state also offers concessional tariffs for the registry of property in case it is in a woman’s name.

Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh’s Waning Influence

The BJP’s landslide victory in the state is a major setback for two veteran Congress leaders and former chief ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. Both had actively led the campaign — Kamal Nath from the front while Digvijaya Singh led the cadre from behind the curtain.

It may be recalled that the Congress lost Madhya Pradesh to the BJP in 2003, after two terms of Digvijaya Singh. The party then managed to come back to power after a gap of 15 years in 2018. Despite being two to three seats short of a majority, it managed to form the government headed by Kamal Nath.

 The Scindia Factor

However, the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalist MLAs led to the Congress government’s fall and BJP came back to power again in March 2020. After this setback in 2020, these two senior Congress politicians had energised the shattered party cadre again by winning the mayoral elections last year, and they were confident to win the assembly election too, but their hopes were dashed, spelling a virtual end to their long political career as by the next assembly election, both of these Congress veterans will be over 80 years. This massive defeat will also lower the confidence of the Congress workers on the ground. They fought hard against the BJP’s multi-layered cadres.

One of the biggest blows to the BJP was the defeat of Home Minister Dr. Naroatam Mishra. Bharti Rajendra from the Congress defeated Mishra by a margin of 7,742 votes.

Minorities Sidelined

Meanwhile, there was no silver lining for the minorities, especially Muslims, this time to get the much-needed political space. Now there will only be two Muslim faces in the assembly. Congress allotted just two seats to Muslims with over six percent presence in the state. Sitting MLA Arif Masood and Atif Aqueel, son of sitting MLA and former minister Arif Aqueel, who stepped down due to his illness, retained their seats in Bhopal. Arif Masood trounced his BJP opponent by 16,233 votes while Atif Aqueel defeated his BJP rival by a margin of 26,816 votes.

Before the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Congress used to give tickets to more than a dozen Muslim candidates out of which 6 to 8 emerged victorious. Fearing reprisal from right-wing forces, the Congress became a miser as far as Muslim candidates were concerned and allotted only three to four tickets. In 1993 assembly polls, no Muslim candidate could become an MLA while in 1998 there were four MLAs from the Congress.

Kamal Nath, following in the footsteps of BJP, also pursued the hardcore Hindutva card while taking Muslims for granted in his course of approach to the polls. On many issues, Kamal Nath, too, took a pro-Hindutva stance, surrendering the Congress’ secular credentials. The Congress, in fact, seemed wary of taking any pro-minority stance.

 Soft Hindutva

Kamal Nath organised a three-day narration of Ramkatha in Simaria of Chhindwara district, his home turf, by Peethadhishwar of Bageshwar Dham Pandit Dhirendra Krishna Shastri, who reiterated his call for the establishment of “Hindu rashtra”. In fact, on Shastri’s demands for a Hindu rashtra, Nath had responded by saying: “If 82 per cent of the country is made up of Hindus, then what nation is this?” Prior to this, BJP had also held such events in different parts of the state inviting this very Hindu saint.

Veteran Congress leader Aziz Qureshi, who has been a governor of three states, Lok Sabha member and earlier a minister in the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, castrated Kamal Nath for portraying himself as a Hanuman bhakt (devotee) by holding religious events cenetred around Hanuman, setting up a massive Hanuman idol at Chhindwara and even welcomed the merger of the right-wing Bajrang Sena, which espoused the cause of the far-right, into the Congress.

Echoing his sentiments, Haji Mohammad Imran Haroon, secretary of Bhopal Madhya Pradesh Sadbhavna Manch, said: “If Congress had given 30 out of 230 seats to the Muslim community in Madhya Pradesh, then the flag of victory could have been hoisted on at least 25 more seats. This would have given Congress a lot of support and paved the way for tickets to Muslims in other states also.”

Imran Haroon said the Congress made a mistake by pandering to the wishes of Kamal Nath and Digvijaya in the allotment of tickets to Muslims. “They sank the entire boat of the Congress. These leaders ignored the experienced leaders of Muslim society and did not change their strategy of playing a soft Hindutva card which also became the reason for the Congress,” he said.

 Tribal Seats

 The support of tribals was one of the major factors for Congress finishing ahead of the BJP in the 2018 polls. This time around, the BJP made a comeback by winning 24 of the 47 tribal seats while the Congress won 22. The Bhartiya Adivasi Party won one seat.

In 2018, Congress won 30 of the 47 seats reserved for scheduled castes, with BJP securing 16. The ball was completely in BJP’s court in 2013 with 31 seats while the Congress stood at 15. One seat in each of the two elections went to candidates from other parties.

Both the BJP and the Congress worked hard to woo the tribal votes, the Congress trying to retain the votes which had shifted to BJP since the 2003 elections but seemed to be returning to the Congress fold in 2018, while the BJP tried to wrest the tribal seats back from the Congress. However, it’s the BJP which was able to increase its tribal seats in this election.

Emergence of BAP

Kamleshwar Dodiyar from the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) emerged as the sole third-party winner in the assembly elections. Dodiyar secured the Sailana seat in Ratlam by defeating Congress candidate Harsh Vijay Gehlot ‘Guddu’ by a margin of 4,618 votes. This is the first time that the BAP, headquartered in Rajasthan, has registered a victory in Madhya Pradesh. The BAP, which emerged from the Bharatiya Tribal Party in 2020, was formally launched in the state a few months before the elections. It fielded 25 candidates in tribal-dominated regions.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s vote share was 48.6 per cent and the Congress’s 40.4 per cent. In 2018, BJP had 41.02 percent with 109 seats while Congress had 40.89% with 114 seats. On the other hand, the vote share of the BSP was 3.5%, while Samajwadi Party, CPI and CPI (M) received 0.46%, 0.03%, and 0.01% votes, respectively.

Compared to 2018, BSP faced a decline. The party had won two seats out of 227 with a vote share of 5.01%. Samajwadi Party had secured one seat with a 1.30% vote share. In 2013, the BSP contested 227 seats, securing a 6.29% vote share and winning four seats.

In the end, it would not be wrong to say that it is the failure of the Congress to win the confidence of the people that facilitated the victory of the BJP.

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